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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 August 2005, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
Darfur's peacekeeping challenge

Adam Mynott
BBC East Africa correspondent

There is no doubting the effectiveness of African Union peace monitoring troops in the areas where they are operating in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur.

African Union troops in Darfur
More AU troops are on their way but they are still not enough. Photo: Nawaz Shah

But despite planned reinforcements, they will remain too few to cover the whole of this vast desert region.

For example, AU camps have been set up in Labado and Khor Abache in South Darfur in the past six months.

These two villages had been laid waste by the terror tactics of the pro-government Arab Janjaweed militias and by fighting between government troops and rebel SLA and JEM soldiers.

The villages were set on fire and hardly a building was left standing; dozens of people had been killed and the occupants fled either into the bush or to nearby displacement camps.

Now in both places, villagers are coming back, drawn by the security of knowing the very presence of armed observers will protect them.

The Sector Commander of the Nyala, South Darfur region, Colonel Vitali Ojumbo took me to Khor Abache to show the impact that his forces have had.

About 2,000 of the 12,000 people who used to live in the village had come back.

Fear of attack

One young woman, Miriam Mohammed, said: "I am still scared of being attacked, but while the African Union soldiers are here I feel safe."

She came back a few weeks ago with her family to try to plant crops and catch the annual rains which have just started.

Map of Darfur region
Colonel Ojumbo, a Kenyan army officer, has a battalion under his command of about 850 men.

Seven different nationalities of African soldiers answer to his orders, but the area they cover is vast - hundreds of square kilometres.

The colonel said it was probably the most volatile region in Darfur, and the threat of attack from Arab militias was constant.

He said to operate more effectively, AU forces need to be reinforced in numbers and resources.

By the end of September, there are due to be 7,500 AU troops in Darfur, and that figure is expected to grow to 12,500 by early next year.

Even at those levels the demands to cover the vast region will remain overwhelming. Colonel Ojumbo said they could do with more vehicles and helicopters.

Protection

The mandate of the AU forces is to oversee the ceasefire between government troops and the rebels, to report violations of that ceasefire and to protect humanitarian workers and AU monitoring forces.

It only extends to protecting villagers should they come under attack, or be threatened, while AU forces are in the vicinity.

Villagers who have returned to their homes
The African Union forces will help villagers if they come under attack. Photo: Nawaz Shah

A number of humanitarian workers from the international community in South Darfur, who did not want to quoted, said proper protection could not be given to the oppressed people of Darfur, unless the mandate was "more robust", as one person put it.

There are still daily attacks on villagers.

The victims invariably blame the pro-government Janjaweed. But most attacks seem to be cases of banditry and criminal activity.

Government police and soldiers are making a concerted effort to halt these attacks but they too lack sufficient numbers to bring them to a halt.

Better security is an absolute prerequisite of a return to peace and normal life in Darfur, if indeed that is ever possible now.

The security situation has improved significantly since AU troops arrived in the past nine months, but the fact that close to two million terrified people remain in vast encampments dotted across Darfur tells its own story about how secure they feel.


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